1. Book Reviews – 2020

Do you want me to review your book? Please refer to the “Applications – book reviews & book tours” page: Apply for a book review/tour here

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Rating Scale:

  1. *****  Fantastic! You’ve gotta read this one!
  2. ****  Great. Well worth a look
  3. ***   OK. You may enjoy it.
  4. **    Not so great. Either dull, badly written, or just plain awful. Not recommended
  5. *     Unspeakably bad. Couldn’t finish it

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“The Six Rules of Christmas” by Penelope Janu


Rating: ****  

Genre: Fiction: Romance/Chick Lit

Read:  November

Are you looking for something light and easy to read to celebrate the end of the year? Then “The Six Rules of Christmas” by Penelope Janu might be right up your alley. Ariella is a small-town lawyer doing her best to follow her self-imposed rules to ensure that she gets the family business and her life under control. With her Christmas loving mother long dead, and her father recently deceased, Penelope has to manage a Christmas on her own. She thinks she has it all under control, when the new farrier, Jack, cajoles her into joining the local Christmas committee and becomes an unexpected romantic interest in her life Ariella has some new rules to learn. This is easy to read, light-hearted romance novel with the right dash of small town life and Christmas. A great holiday read.

“Four Past Midnight” by Stephen King


Rating: ****  

Genre: Fiction: Horror

Read:  November

A wonderful collection of four short stories (novella sized) from the master of horror. The stories are “The Langoliers” – one of my all time favourite King shorts, “Secret Window, Secret Garden”, “The Library Policeman” and “The Sun Dog”.A must read for fans of King.

“The Last Will and Testament of Daphne Le Marche” by Kate Forster

Rating:  ****

Genre: Fiction: Chick Lit

Read:  November

Daphne le Marche, matriach of an international cosmetics concern, is dying and needs to finalise her will. Much to the dismay of her greedy son, she leaves her business, assets, the bulk of her fortune, and most importantly, a secret formula, to her granddaughters. This creates a family row like no other.

This is a wonderful, fun and easy to read venture with elements of fashion, romance, mystery and family drama. The story switches between Daphne’s past, and the present lives of the grandchildren Billie and Celeste.  It’s a wonderful light read, and a good edition to my holiday collection.

“Walking on Sunshine” by Jennifer Stevenson

Rating:  ****

Genre: Fiction: Supernatural

Read:  November

Sex demons Baz and Veek have been assigned the tasks of looking after future goddess and current rock idol Iona. and Sophie, her crazy stalker (and distant relative of Veek). Everything turns out to be a bit of a crazy mess, full of vodou magic, music, sex and family drama. Will the demons find their place in the Universe? Have they found their soul mates. 

The story switches from the point of view of each of the main characters, covering the past and present, allowing the plot to transition smoothly to its inevitable conclusions. All of the characters are wonderfully flawed and both likeable and frustrating at the same time.

“Walking on Sunshine” by Jennifer Stevenson is Book Four in the Slacker Demons series. I must confess that this is the first one I have read, and although I suspect that the earlier novels give a lot of background to the story, they can be read as stand alone novels. This is a crazy but fun read.

“IT” by Stephen King

Rating: ****  

Genre: Fiction: Horror

Read:  October

Seven friends spend their holidays in Derry chasing a monster responsible for the murder of several townsfolk, including one of the group’s younger brother. They think they have the monster beat and move on to live out their lives. Twenty eight years later, the murders start up again. The group must come together to face the nightmare and deal with It once and for all.  Standard King fair and an enjoyable Halloween read.

“Sweet Nothing” by Richard Lange

Rating: *****   

Genre: Fiction: Thriller

Read:  October

“Sweet Nothing” by Richard Lange is a collection of short stories centred around folks in lower socio-economic/quasi-criminal circles, mostly set in California. The stories are powerful, relatable and brilliantly written. This was a joy to read and I hope that I can develop my writing skills to this level. Brilliant.

“The Illustrated Man” by Ray Bradbury

Rating:   *****

Genre: Fiction: Science Fiction

Read:  October

A great collection of short stories about potential futures for earth and its inhabitants. The story starts with the narrator coming across a man covered almost entirely in tattoos. At night each of his vivid tattoos comes to life and tells a story – the short stories of the book. I first read this when I was in University in the 1980s and enjoyed it just as much now as I did then. Some of the concepts are a little dated but the depictions of human nature, emotion and visual descriptions still ring true. A wonderful read for the Sci Fi fan.

“The Stone in My Pocket” by Matthew Keeley

Rating:   

Genre: Fiction:  

Read:  October

Nathan Love knows that he’s different. He’s different from his school mates, his family and his friends – if you can call them friends; they feel more like acquaintances to him. Something’s wrong at home, but his parents won’t talk to him about it, and his school grades are going nowhere at a time when he should be gearing up for his university applications. To top it all off, he is sure that there is a ghost in the house. He feels like an outsider, certain that everyone sees him as an unlovable weirdo.

One morning, while walking through his small home village to catch the bus to school, he spies a ‘help wanted’ sign in the window of the local book store. On a whim he applies and gets the job. The shop owner, Iris, becomes a force in his life. In addition, to the book shop, she runs a local psychic circle and meditation group. Having sensed a psychic leaning in Nathan, she invites him to join to group. Nathan latches on to his new friendship circle, doing his darndest to fit in. He’s psychic, that’s the reason why he is different. Or is it?

Nathan is a wonderfully flawed character, who manages to simultaneously infuriate and endear himself to you, with his believable flaws, self-doubt, anxiety disorder and innate kindness. It is hard not to become a part of his voyage of self-discovery.

Keeley’s descriptions of the small Scottish village, with its winding streets, gothic church and grimy canal are pinpoint accurate. You can feel the crisp cold air, struggle with the dank lighting and walk the dark, lonely streets with Nathan, as he ruminates on the events of his life.

The plot builds smoothly, with little twists and turns along the way. The chapters are set in short grabs, making it easy to read and hard to put down.

“The Stone in my Pocket” is the second full novel by the author. The first “Turning the Hourglass” is a griping science fiction novel, also worth a look at.

I thoroughly enjoyed this story and loved pretty much everything about it. It is aimed at young adults but is easily accessible for any person, young or old, who has ever felt that they didn’t quite fit in.

I received a free copy of this book in exchange for a fair and honest review.

“Horns” by Joe Hill

Rating:  *****

Genre: Fiction: Supernatural Thriller

Read:  October

Ig Perrish’s true love, Merrin was raped and murdered and everyone from the cops to his folks thinks that he did it. A year later, after a drunken episode of self loathing, he wakes up to find that he has grown horns. Miraculously he can now hear the thoughts of others, and in some

“Horns” by Joe Hill

Rating:  *****

Genre: Fiction: Supernatural Thriller

Read:  October

Ig Perrish’s true love, Merrin was raped and murdered and everyone from the cops to his folks thinks that he did it. A year later, after a drunken episode of self loathing, he wakes up to find that he has grown horns. Miraculously he can now hear the thoughts of others, and in some cases influence their actions. He sets out to find Merrin’s killer, and in the process discovers things that send his life spiralling out of control. I am aware that this book has received mixed reviews, but for me it was a case of the right book at the right time. It is emotionally draining in some ways, and it is not a tale of joy (for the most part). Make up your own mind – but I loved it.

“Little Fish are Sweet” by Matthew Condon

Rating: **** 

Genre: Non-Fiction: True Crime/Social Commentary

Read:  September

“Little Fish are Sweet” is a memoir style book in which Condon describes his research and developing relationship with disgraced former Queensland Police Commissioner Terry Lewis, during the writing of the “Three Crooked Kings”; a series about police corruption in Queensland. He describes Lewis’ interesting behaviour and beliefs about the Fitzgerald Inquiry, his obsessive diary keeping and note taking, and extensive records. Condon also discusses the disturbing presence of paedophiles and their involvement in the Queensland Scouts movement and education system. An interesting read.

“The Beginner Writer” by Geetanjali Mukherjee

Rating:  

Genre: Non-Fiction: Writing craft

Read:  September

A great resource for the new writer

So, you want to be a writer, but you’re not really sure how to get started? Geetanjali Mukherjee’s The Beginner Writer: How to write – and finish – your first book”, might be what you need to get you started.

When you embark on the writing journey you may find yourself overwhelmed by the expectations of yourself and others, a lack of clarity as to where to start, and feelings of inadequacy and imposter syndrome.  Mukherjee has published works through traditional publishing houses, and through her own self-publishing imprint. She understands what you are going through.

In her easy to access guide she explores what it means to be a writer, provides relatable examples and easy to follow hints and tips to get you started on your journey.

Topics examined include:

  • Ideas, how to get them and what to do with them
  • Researching your book
  • Plotting out your novel (or not) and planning your writing
  • First drafts
  • Time management
  • Dealing with writer’s block, and

The Beginner Writer: How to write – and finish – your first book” is a great place for the new writer to start and offers plenty of reminders and refreshers for those further into their craft. A valuable resource.

“The Tommyknockers” by Stephen King

Rating:  ****

Genre: Fiction: Horror/Sci Fi

Read:  September

When Bobbi trips over a strange bit of metal while walking on the forest path of her property, the life and existence of the township of Haven changes irrevocably. Bobbi and the townsfolk begin to change, losing both their physical form and sanity. Bobbi’s poet friend Gard, protected somewhat by the alien influence by a metal plate, helps her to dig up the Alien craft. “The Tommyknockers” isn’t my favourite of King’s work, but does have his usual descriptive prose, wonderful characterisation and somewhat compelling story line.

“The Prince” by Nicolo Machiavelli

Rating: **** 

Genre: Non-Fiction: Historic Social Commentary

Read:  September

This is a difficult book to rate as it isn’t exactly something that one enjoys reading. It is, however, well research and well written (or translated). “The Prince” reflects the political machinations of the day and is a guide to maintaining power over the people. It has been described as an “evil” book but I don’t agree. Any ‘evil’ related to the book would be the result of how the advice (and which advice) is applied to a certain situation, by certain individuals. It is very matter-of-fact and is based on astute observations of human behaviour. It is mercifully short and makes for an interesting read.

“The Girl in the Mirror” by Rose Carlyle

Rating:  ***1/2 

Genre: Fiction: Thriller/Suspense

Read:  August

Iris and Summer Carmichael are identical twins. Well, almost identical. Iris, the second born, is a mirror twin (her internal organs are on the reverse side of her body). Iris feels that she has come in second all of their lives. Summer appears to be confident, glamourous, successful and happily married to a wonderful man, where Iris is ordinary, has a failed career and failed marriage.

Summer calls Iris out of the blue and asks her to help her husband sail the family yacht from Thailand to the Seychelles.  Iris, a born sailor, jumps at the chance to cross the ocean with the dishy husband. Despite best laid plans, Iris instead of travelling with the husband, starts the journey with her pregnant twin. One morning she wakes to find her sister gone. She sails on to the Seychelles determined to take on her sister’s identity.

The Iris character, although not instantly likable, is easy to relate to. How many of us suffer from low self-esteem, and spend our days comparing ourselves, appearance, lifestyle and achievements against those of others. Iris has the misfortune of having to compare herself to a mirror image. It would be interesting to find out how twins feel about this representation and if it is true for them. The supporting characters are an interesting bunch, with few redeeming features. Readers will be glad that they are not members of their family.

The descriptions of Thailand and other locations, including the majesty of sailing on the ocean, are a joy. You can almost feel yourself on the beach, on the boat or in their home.

Written in first person, from Iris’ point of view, the plot moves swiftly and keeps the reader engaged. Don’t let the “Girl” title put you off. I know that many of us are more than a little done with the whole “Girl” thing– especially when the stories are about women. It does make sense, however, and fits with the whole mirror twin theme. My only criticism is that I worked out the plot twist before I was a third of the way through the novel. Have said that, it was entertaining and easy to read, and isn’t that just what we want during these high-stress, COVID-19 days.

I received a free copy of this book through Sisters in Crime – Australia, in exchange for a fair and honest review.

“Darkness for Light” by Emma Viskic

Rating:  *****

Genre: Fiction: Crime/Melbourne Noir

Read:  August

Caleb Zelic is on a mission to get his life back on track. He is re-establishing his private investigations practice after the sudden departure of his business associate Frankie. He is attempting to repair his relationship with his pregnant wife, Kat, and is in therapy to try to manage his less favourable obsessive-compulsive personality traits. He has bought himself a super new blue-tooth hearing aid and is reconnecting with his friends in the Deaf Community. But most importantly, he is striving to think before he acts and make only good decisions. It’s all going swimmingly until he decides to take on a new case.

Having received a number of cryptic emails, Caleb arranges to meet the new client at the Collingwood Children’s Farm. When he stumbles upon the man’s body, he becomes entangles in the Federal and Local police investigations into the murder and related money laundering venture. Caleb is about to walk away from the mess when it becomes apparent that his former partner, Frankie, and her equally difficult sister, Maggie are heavily involved with the case. The violent abduction of Tilda, Frankie’s nine-year-old niece, thrusts Caleb firmly into the picture.

Caleb Zelic is a wonderfully flawed character, who manages to simultaneously infuriate and endear himself to you, with his believable flaws and innate kindness. His estranged wife Kat, and extended family of charming individuals are a real treat; as are the less endearing figures of Frankie and her associates.Viskic describes Melbourne’s inner city with pinpoint accuracy. You can feel the crisp cold air, see the dark, lonely alleys, and experience Caleb’s almost soundless world as easily as if you were there yourself. The plot builds smoothly, with many jagged edges, engaging sub plots, with juicy twist and turns. The chapters are short grabs, making it easy to read and hard to put down.

“Darkness for Light” is the third instalment in the Caleb Zelic series. It reads as a stand-alone novel, but I must admit that if I wasn’t reading this book for the purpose of review, I would have immediately put it down and sourced the first two. It’s not that I needed to, but rather because I wanted the whole story immediately.

I thoroughly enjoyed this story and loved pretty much everything about it. If you enjoy the works of Peter Temple, Garry Disher and Karina Kilmore, you will love “Darkness for Light” by Emma Viskic.

I received a free copy of this book through Sisters in Crime – Australia, in exchange for a fair and honest review.

“Bell Hammers” by Lancelot Schaubert


Rating:   ****

Genre: Fiction: Humour

Read:  August

“Bell Hammers” traces the life of “Remmy”, Wilson Remus Broganer from his childhood to end of life, through a series of anecdotes, tall tales, and dubious recollections. Remmy is a wonderful character, set on creating a happy life for himself and the other less fortunate folk. The story is set in a region in Illinois known as Little Egypt, and describes a land of hard working farmers and oil company entrepreneurs.The style of writing is reminiscent of Mark Twain, in that the author liberally uses colloquial expression and clipped sentences.”Bell Hammers” is engaging, entertaining, and darn good distraction from all of the horrific COVID-19 news and statistics. Worth a look.

I received a copy of this book through The LibraryThing Early Reviewers group in exchange for a fair and honest review.

“Room to Dream” by David Lynch & Kristine McKenna

Rating:  ****

Genre: Non-Fiction: Memoir/Biography

Read:  July/August

A fascinating and comprehensive look at the life and art of David Lynch. I love the format of the book, which is set out with alternating sections by McKenna – in true biographical style, and Lunch – who gives his personal recollections of the time in question. One for the fans.

“Field of Poppies” by Carmel Bird


Rating:  ****

Genre: Fiction/Mystery

Read: August

Marsali Swift and her husband William have returned to Melbourne after what they hoped would be a permanent retirement tree change to the quaint property of Listowel, in the Victorian Goldfields township of Muckleton. They hoped for a quiet life full of rural splendour, delightful book clubs and country charm. Instead they become victims of a theft, a neighbour goes missing – presumed murdered, and they uncover disturbing facts about their little town’s violent past.

The style of writing is somewhat unusual, especially for the genre, and it may not appeal to all readers. The novel is set out in a journal/memoir style and is a combination of recollections of the events interspersed with random thoughts and observations relating to art, history, politics, the environment, literature and science. It’s kind of like being stuck next to Great Aunt Clara at a wedding after she’s had too many glasses of sherry. It is charming, confusing, informative and irritating all at the same time. Part of you want to leave the table, and part of you can’t drag yourself away.

The style of the novel allows for extensive descriptions of character and places. One can readily visualise Muckleton, its quaint streets and landmarks and eclectic mix of locals. It is worth pushing through to the end, even if the writing doesn’t set readily with you.

“Field of Dreams” by Carmel Bird will either earn a place in your top ten for the year or be left unfinished. Reader’s choice.

I received a free copy of this book through Sisters in Crime – Australia, in exchange for a fair and honest review.

“Science Fiction Collection” compiled by Editors of Canterbury

Rating:   ***** 

Genre:  Fiction: Science Fiction

Read:  July

A wonderful collection fo science fiction greats including tales by Edgar Allen Poe, Fitz James O’Brien, Jules Verne, H.G.Wells, Jack London, Charlotte Perkins Gilman, H.P.Lovecraft and Stanley G. Weinbaum. I had read most of these previously, but it was a joy to discover them all over again. The collection is beautifully presented in a faux brushed leather cover. A must for all sci fi fans.

“12 Daves of Christmas” by Julie Madison


Rating:   **** 

Genre:  Fiction: Chick Lit/Romance

Read:  July

Romance Novel author Abby is in a bit of a funk. Her grandmother has died, she’s lamenting her flagging love life, and has a book deadline is looming large. When she opens the package from her grandmother’s estate, she comes across an old pocket watch and a love letter from a man called Dave. The ghost of her grandmother appears and convinces Abby to help her on her quest to find Dave so that she can move on. This is an easy to read, light and entertaining book. A great, no effort option to help you through COVID lockdown.

“New Witch on the Block” by Louisa West


Rating: ***1/2   

Genre: Fiction: Chick Lit/Romance

Read:  July

Rosemary Bell has taken her daughter and run away to a small town to escape her violent husband. While setting up her new house she encounters her strange but handsome Irish neighbour, who declares that she is the Queen of the Witches. Rosemary scoffs initially, but soon discovers that she has mystical powers which can help her rebuild her new life. This is a fun and entertaining read. It’s not brilliant, or taxing, but is a great, light-hearted escape option during this time of COVID-19 lockdowns. Enjoy.

“Lost Transmissions: The Secret History of Science Fiction and Fantasy” by Desiring Boskovich 

Rating:   ****

Genre: Non-Fiction: Art, Writing, Culture 

Read:  July

A surprisingly interesting look at the historical influences on the genre of science fiction. The book examines unpublished works, the influence on and of art, writing, film, music, design and gaming. The book features many wonderful images and interviews with writers and artists. A must for fans.

“Veils of Smoke by Sarah Key

Rating:   ****

Genre: Fiction:  Literary

Read:  July

Sinazo and her sister Nonhlanhla are children of the village, brought up with traditional values and in the harsh natural environment that their ancestors called home. When they witness serial killer Tomas Ndaki murder a woman in the hills near their village, their lives take different directions. Nonhlanhla grows into a strong young woman, winning a sports scholarship to study a degree in Social Work, and Sinazo, haunted by her childhood experiences, sets off to Alexandra Township to seek her fortune as a hostess in a glitzy restaurant in Sandton.

Sinazo thinks her fortunes have changed for the better, when she begins a relationship with wealthy, but married, businessman, who sets her up in a swanky apartment. Things soon turn ugly when she reveals that she is pregnant with his child. The situation is complicated when her lover, contracts the services of Tomas, who has recently escaped from prison. Nonhlanhla senses that something is wrong, and with the help of the University team, who are researching women’s issues and domestic violence, sets out to save her sister.

Key’s novel is a powerful and thought-provoking examination of the real threat of domestic and general violence towards women in South Africa today. Her characters are believable, endearing, and the situations they find themselves in are all too real. Your heart breaks for every “Sinazo” out there with no one to save them. A wonderful and moving read.

“Penelope ( A Madcap Regency Romance ) (The Fairweather Sisters Book 1)” by Anya Wylde

Rating:   ****

Genre: Fiction: Romance

Read:  June 2020

Penelope Fairweather has been sent to London to seek her fortune (i.e. to snag a man of measure to marry). She is fortunate enough to have a sponsorship with a friend of her deceased mother to present her to society and escort her to the seasons events. Penelope is not exactly aristocratic timbre. She is pretty, but plain, clumsy, outspoken, is friendly with servants and highway men, and with her pet goat in tow, very much a country bumpkin. Will she be able to charm her society friends and win a husband.

“Penelope” is a fun, sometimes hilarious, sometimes silly read, which makes for marvellous, non-intellectually taxing, entertainment during this time of COVID-19. Would make great holiday reading.

“Uncommon People: The Rise and Fall of The Rock Stars” By David Hepworth 

Rating:  ****

Genre: Non Fiction: Music

Read:  

“Uncommon People: The Rise and Fall of the Rock Stars 1955-1994” by David Hepworth, offers a brief history of popular music and its stars from Little Richard to Kurt Cobain. With the music industry now dominated by digital downloads and fleeting moments, the rock star, like my youth, is a thing of the past. The book is set out with a chapter per year, featuring the career progression of a relevant rock identity and a playlist at the end. Good fun and an easy read.

“Harlem 69: The Future of Soul” by Stuart Cosgrove

Rating:   *****

Genre: Non Fiction: Music

Read:  June 2020

Well researched, well written and entertaining from start to finish. “Harlem 69: The Future of Soul” by music and sub-culture journalist Stuart Cosgrove is a comprehensive look at the year that was. The book is a month by month account of the major musical and cultural events in Harlem in 1969, covering the influence of drug dealers, small record labels, the Black Panthers, the moon landing, jazz, blues, disco, funk, pop, blacksploitation movies, and of course the Apollo theatre. I learned a lot about some of my favourite artists and how certain pieces were developed. (I found myself humming Bobby Womack’s “Up on 110th Street” – even thought this was released in 1972). The book is the third in a series (designed to read in chronological order) and I scrambling through our vast pile of unread books to see if we had the other two. But we don’t, and I need to order them through Book Depository and will have to wait until the COVID-19 restrictions are listed). A brilliant book which I thoroughly recommend for all lovers of music.

Sins in Blue” by Brian Kaufman

Rating:  *****

Genre: Fiction: General 

Read: June

It’s 1969 and 16 year old Kennedy has run away from home to seek out blues musician Willie Johnson, the man with the two dick name. Kennedy plans to fulfil his dream of becoming a music industry manager and producer. He arrives to find that his imagined world of blues music isn’t quite what he hoped for – for either himself or Willie. This is a wonderful tale of friendship, coming of age and coming to terms with the realities of life. It is a joy to read, both being well written and well researched. The characters are flawed, believable and eminently likeable (even the hopeless ones). It will appeal to all musicians, fans of the blues, and lovers of a good story. It’s rare that I give a five star review, but this book is worth the rating.

I received a copy of this book from Black Rose Writing in exchange for an honest and fair review.

“Antigone Finch: The adventures of Antigone Finch” by Veronique O’Toole

Rating:  ****

Genre: Fiction: Middle Grade/Young Adult

Read: May/June

Antigone Finch has been expelled from boarding school and is about to be forced to marry her frightful cousin. Finding this a totally unsuitable arrangement, she runs away and gets on the first boat to India. Antigone gets caught up in the theft of an ancient artefact and must work with her new found friends to thwart their enemies and return the item to its rightful owners. Great fun and a wonderful debut novel from the author. Suitable for middle grade readers and all who love an adventure.

“Dog Days, Glenn Miller Nights” by Laurie Graham

Rating: ****

Genre: Fiction: General

Read:   May 2020

Birdie Gibbs is a tough old bird, who lives on a salubrious Council Estate, battling various Chavs, slappers and assorted morons just to get through the day. Birdie has been through a world war, four husbands, lost a child, worked in factories and longs for the days when she was physically able to dance the nights away. This often funny, sometimes tragic, this first person tale describes Birdie’s daily life, looking after the less able on the estate, taking care of her ex-husbands dogs and hoping for a better future. Light and fun read, with many witty observations about the state of society and the plight of the less well off.

“Once Upon A Time In Melbourne” by Liam Houlihan

Rating: ****

Genre: Non Fiction: True Crime

Read:   May 2020

A fascinating history of modern Melbourne crime and policing. The book features two major crime incidents from start to finish. Houlihan presents the crime timelines in easy to read snippets, looking at the roles of various police and criminals (sometimes both at once). The snappy anecdotes have an almost Elroy feel. Great for the lover of true crime.

“Confessions of a Bookseller” by Shaun Bythell

Rating: ****1/2  

Genre: Non Fiction: Humour/Auto-biography

Read:   May 2020

Another entertaining read by Shaun Bythell on the ins and outs of running a second hand book store. As with the original, “Confessions of a Bookseller” follows a diary style format where Bythell describes the daily events in his bookstore and in the small town of Wigtown.  There are plenty of amusing anecdotes covering the various weird and whacky customers, staff, issues in dealing with on-line bookseller platforms, and the lifecycle of the town. I was very pleased to note that the shop seems to be turning over more profit than described in the previous book, and that the cat, Captain, is still very much on the scene. An entertaining and enjoyable read.

“Liberation: Secrets of the Soul: Short Stories” by Lina Girgis

Rating: ***1/2  

Genre: Fiction: Short Stories

Read:   May 2020

“Liberation: Secretes of the Soul: Short Stories” by Lina Girgis is a mix of short stories about women and how they deal with the various snippets of their lives. The stories cover a range of topics including relationships, families, cultural and religious matters, self-esteem, loneliness and friendships. There is a story for every woman in the mix. I liked some more than others, but overall the collection was easy to read and in some instances thought provoking, Worth a look,

“The Secret Life of the Gold Coast” by Brendan Shanahan

Rating: **** 1/2

Genre: Non Fiction: Humour/Travel

Read:   May 2020

Brendan Shanahan, an Australian journalist, moved to Surfers Paradise for 6 months in order to source stories of the wild and wonderful for a new book. Although he doesn’t get the story he is after, the story behind the story is well worth the read. He covers migration, the porn industry, shady developers, and the plight of the down and out seeking a better life in the surf and sand. It’s a combination of very funny and sometimes sad anecdotes making for an entertaining read. As a former Queenslander, I found Shanahan’s expose of life in Surfers Paradise to be alarmingly accurate. Sure, it’s not a total picture, but this is how I remember it.

“488 Rules for Life” by Kitty Flanagan

Rating: *****    

Genre: Non Fiction: Humour

Read:   April 2020

This is hilarious – and at the same time true. I totally agree with Kitty’s  rules, and that includes the ones I don’t follow (but should). This is a wonderful, light and easy read, and is something we can all appreciate during this time of social isolation. Well worth the purchase and it will make a great gift for the ‘difficult to buy for’. Good fun.

“The Best Lousy Choice” by Jim Nesbitt

Rating: ****    

Genre: Fiction: Hard Boiled/Texas Noir

Read:   April 2020

Ed Earl is fighting more demons than a tele-evangelist at a fund raiser exorcism. Haunted by the drama of his last case, he is leaning hard on the booze (whiskey both with and without an ‘e’), pills and periodic female companionship to get him through the day. He needs a case to distract him. His wish is granted but can Ed Earl fight through the pain (both physical and mental) to deal with this slice of life. The case is replete with shifty ranchers, drug cartel associates, shady lawyers, nasty women, unreliable lawmen and even a cheesy, greasy car salesman.

“The Best Lousy Choice” is the third in the Ed Earl Burch series and I recommend reading them in sequence.  This is not a book for the feint-hearted or those adverse to an excess of guns, foul language and a Tarantino level of violence. It is a true hard-boiled, Texas Noir style novel that hold no punches.  The plot moves quickly, and with a multitude of characters colliding in every scene you need to be on the ball to enjoy this ride. Hold on to your hats.

“The Pumpkin Farmer” by Michael Hughes

Rating: **    

Genre: Fiction: Suspense/Thriller

Read:   April 2020

This author has been spamming reviewers on Goodreads in order to get sales/reviews. I try to support new authors and review at least 15 self-published books a year just to see what’s out there. This book reads like a first draft. There is a seed of a workable idea in there, but the plot is uneven, characters two-dimensional and the descriptions of place are inadequate (I know San Fran fairly well and had had problems placing myself in the scene in many sections). The style of writing is amateurish, with almost teenage conversational English punctuated by florid expression (often in the same sentence). All I can say is that it is mercifully short. The author would have been better placed directing his efforts to developing his writing rather than flogging a poor product.

“The Quest for the Golden Bracelet” by Jasmine Fogwell

Rating:  ****  

Genre: Fiction: Junior/Middle Grade/Children

Read: April 2020

“The Quest for the Golden Bracelet” is both a coming of age story and a tale about how it is possible to instigate change.

The story follows the journey of Oshry a potter from the Coal Colony, who on his 12th birthday undertakes his quest through the other colonies to the Floating Island Colony to receive his golden bracelet. On his journey he makes new friends, learns how they are different and how they are the same, and discovers that things are not allows what they seem. He and his new-found friend and travelling companion, Balsam from the Maple Colony, stumble across the secret of the Floating Island and embark on a second quest to improve the quality of life for all potters.

The story is well written and easy to follow. The characters are sweet and endearing (except for the bad guys of course), and the protagonists are ones children can relate to. The plot flows evenly, encouraging the reader to want to take in ‘one more chapter’ rather than putting it down. The story text is dotted with lovely illustrations of the ‘treepots’ (towns) for each of the colonies travelled to.

The book is suitable for junior and middle grade readers, and there are many concepts which could be used to spark conversations with parents and adults. These include social inclusion, how traditions are established and maintained, and when it is appropriate to bend or break the rules.

“Where the Truth Lies” by Karina Kilmore

Rating: *****   

Genre: Fiction: Suspense/Thriller

Read:   April 2020

One year ago, Chrissie O’Brian packed her bags and moved away from her failed life in rural New Zealand to take up a position with The Argus newspaper in Melbourne, Australia. She is struggling to fit in with the office crowd, is a loggerheads with her boss, blocking any attempt to allow herself to examine the tragic car accident where she lost her husband and unborn child, and is refusing to acknowledge the depths of her alcoholism.

After being sent to do a fluff piece on a female crane operator at a Melbourne shipping terminal, O’Brian uncovers a number of workplace health and safety issues that have resulted in a series of suspicious, poorly reported accidents and deaths. She becomes convinced that there is more to the story than union powerplays and employee negligence and undertakes an investigation to uncover the truth.  But her efforts are hampered by issues at the paper. There are redundancies looming large, she’s uncertain if she can trust her police contacts, someone on staff seems to be leaking her findings to the shipping company management, and just when she starts getting traction on the story, she is moved off the news desk and into the Obituaries department.

“Where the Truth Lies” has a real Melbourne/Nordic Noir feel about it. I suspect this is partly due to the seasonal descriptions of Melbourne and the grungier suburbs featured (mainly Fitzroy and the docks areas), or perhaps it’s my recollections of the now abandoned Argus building in Elizabeth Street.

Chrissy O’Brian is a fantastically flawed heroine, whose every pain is etched deeply into the pages of the story. The other players are a fascinating and mixed bunch with varying levels of character development. The plot builds smoothly, enticing the reader to keep pushing until the end. It is a hard one to put down.

I thoroughly enjoyed this story and consider it an excellent debut novel. Kilmore’s experience as a journalist shines through in every part of the tale. It’s well written with believable and flawed characters. My only criticism is that I worked out who the snitch was pretty early in the piece – but I do read a lot of crime fiction.

If you’re fond of the works of Peter Temple, Garry Disher and Jane Harper, you will love “Where the Truth Lies” by Karina Kilmore.

I received a free copy of this book through Sisters in Crime – Australia, in exchange for a fair and honest review.

“Starting Over at Acorn Cottage” by Kate Forster


Rating:  ***** 

Genre: Fiction: Romance/Chick Lit

Read:  March 2020

“Starting over at Acorn Cottage” by Kate Forster has a little bit of everything; drama, despair, baking, renovations, love and a touch a magic.

Clara’s life is a mess. On discovering that her partner has been having an affair with her best friend, she throws caution to the wind, buys a rural property sight unseen, and chucks in her job in to start a life at Acorn Cottage. After a few minor setbacks, Clara forges new friendships with local baker Rachael, retired teacher Tassie, and the handsome handyman, Henry.

The characters are wonderful, flawed, believable and relatable. The plot flows smoothly, making it a hard book to put down. This is more than a simple romance novel, through the tales of three women and their interconnecting lives, it examines coming to terms with past mistakes and wrongs, managing emotions and rebuilding lives.

In the current world climate, it is wonderful to read such an uplifting and enjoyable piece, “Starting over at Acorn Cottage” is a light, engaging and delightful piece of escapism.

“Bjelke Blues” edited by Edina Shaw

Rating: ***

Genre: Non-Fiction: Politics/Social Commentary

Read:  March 2020

A mixed bag of articles from various publications about living in the 1980s in Queensland under the rule of Premier Joh Bjelke-Petersen. As a complete work it is rather interesting and offers a rich and varied assessment of the times. The standard of writing (both in terms of factual information and individual style) varies significantly across the individual pieces. An interesting read for those who lived in Queensland at the time, and those with a passion for political commentary.

“The Other Mrs Miller” by Allison Dickson

Rating:   ***

Genre: Fiction: Crime Thriller/Domestic Noir

Read:  March 2020

Phoebe Miller is a woman who appears to have everything. Everything material that is, but her home life is a shambles. Following the death of her father, a public figure and business tycoon of considerable wealth,  it becomes apparent that his personal behaviour was less than exemplary, with many complaints of sexual harassment hitting the press. On the domestic front, Phoebe and her husband are coming to terms (or not) with their irreconcilable differences relating to starting a family. Aside from monitoring the strange courier who seems to spend a lot of time parked in her street,  Phoebe has withdrawn from the world, and taken to drinking in isolation to get through the days. That is until the Napier family and their very striking teenage son move into the house across the street.

“The Other Mrs Miller” is packed with deeply flawed characters, all battling their personal demons. The female characters, especially the Mrs Millers, are relatable on some levels, and the believability of their thoughts and actions carry the book through to its conclusion. They are difficult to like, but perhaps this is because they are a little too like us.

I have mixed feelings about this book. The author has a beautiful style and there are some wonderful, emotive and thought-provoking sentences throughout the book. The chapters switch between the points of view of Mrs Miller, and unknown narrators, creating an intriguing mystery that keeps you reading.

I enjoyed the story, however, I felt that the second half lacked the consistency of pacing and credibility of the first. The story is a little far-fetched. Having said that, “The Other Mrs Miller” by Allison Dickson is a fun and thrill packed ride, which will be enjoyed by people who like books/shows like “Big Little Lies”.

I received a free copy of this book through Sisters in Crime – Australia, in exchange for a fair and honest review.

“Life Undercover: Coming of Age in the CIA” by Amaryllis Fox

Rating:   ****1/2

Genre: Non Fiction: Memoir

Read:  March 2020

“Life Undercover: Coming of Age in the CIA” by Amaryllis Fox’ memoir describes a surprisingly full and varied life for a woman with so few years under her belt.

She starts her tale by recounting the key events of her youth, and her relationships with her brother, stoic mother and frequently absent father. Of particular interest is her university days and how she was recruited into the CIA – a process I found fascinating, creepy and alarming all at the same time.

After briefly covering the training regime part of her recruitment, she dives into descriptions of her assignments. Fox writes from her heart when she describes her encounters with terrorists, arms dealers and other folk, whom most of us (thankfully) only ever see from a distance. Sure, it’s possible that she has used some poetic licence in descriptions of events, but there would be a lot from her CIA life which she is not free to disclose. Her writing conveys a sense of honesty and thoughtfulness as she looks into the lives of those who engage in terrorist activities and contemplates their reasons for doing so.

Not to neglect all areas of her life, Fox describes the impact that her work with the CIA had on her in terms of social isolation. She describes how having to lie constantly to her family, and the few friends she has (who are mostly in the Agency) created a personal identity crisis and constant stress and bouts of depression. She provides alarming descriptions of the toll her work had on her interpersonal relationship, including two painful and disastrous marriages, rushed into at the direction of the Agency.

Fox proves that life in the CIA (or any spy organisation for that matter) is not for the feint hearted. The enormity of the personal and emotional sacrifice from all involved is laid out on the pages for all to see, creating a deeply personal, alarming and moving work. I am eternally grateful that this isn’t my life.

If you like spy stories like “Little Drummer Girl” and “Homeland” then “Life Undercover: Coming of Age in the CIA” by Amaryllis Fox is a real-life version you’ll really love. I am not a huge fan of the memoir or spy tales generally, but I found this fascinating. It’s easy to read and compelling, and therefore a hard one to put down.

I received a free copy of this book through Sisters in Crime – Australia, in exchange for a fair and honest review.

“The Institute” by Stephen King

Rating:   ****1/2

Genre: Fiction: Suspense/Horror

Read:  February 2020

4.5 stars. Children with indicators of telepathy and telekinesis are being kidnapped and taken to a hidden research facility (think “Firestarter”) for nefarious purposes. Will Luke and his friends find a way out of The Institute, and will police office Tim Jamieson be able to uncover the trial of clues and solve the mystery. I thoroughly enjoyed “The Institute”, it’s right up there with some of Kings classic novels (and recent triumphs like “Doctor Sleep”). Excellent character development, engaging story with lot of that wonderful slow build that King is famous for. This is a difficult book to put down, so be prepared for some sleepless nights. A must for King fans.

“Young Soul Rebels: A Personal History of Northern Soul” by Stuart Cosgrove

Rating:   ****1/2 

Genre: Non Fiction: Memoir/Music

Read: February 2020

4.5 stars. “Young Soul Rebels: A Personal History of Northern Soul” by Stuart Cosgrove is a comprehensive and engaging look at the birth and on-going development of the Northern Soul scene in the UK. Cosgrove is a compelling writer whose style allows you to feel as if you were right there with him at the Twisted Wheel, looking down from the balcony at Wigan Casio and on the promenade at Blackpool. Not only is this a stellar review of the music and style of the movement, it’s offers readers a social history – allowing a glimpse into British life across the decades. Of note are the references to notorious serial killer, Peter Sutcliffe, the coal miners’ strikes and the impact of the Thatcher government. I must admit to being a fan of Northern Soul music, but I am by no means an aficionado (being more into Mod, Ska, Funk & Jazz). A must read for lovers of the scene and music generally.

“A Gentleman in Moscow” by Amor Towles

Rating:   *****

Genre: Fiction: Literary Fiction

Read:  

Following the Bolshevik revolutions, Count Alexander Rostov (Sasha to his friends) is declared to be a ‘Former Person’ and sentenced for the term of his natural life, to house arrest at the Metropol hotel. Always the optimist, the Count makes the most of his circumstances, living life to the full in a small space. This is a wonderful story about life in the USSR in the 20th century. It is charming, witty, fascinating and enchanting. The story draws you in until you feel part of the furniture at the Metropol. It was an absolute shame to finish reading it, and I’m determined to source more work by the author.

“Tokyo: DK Eyewitness Travel Guide” by Jon Burbank

Rating:  **** 

Genre: Non Fiction: Travel Guide

Read: February 2020  

I really like the Eyewitness Travel series of guides and find that they are excellent tools when planning a trip. The Tokyo version is great, with a comprehensive breakdown of the areas of the city (including suggestions for self-conducted walking tours) and great suggestions for day trips to surrounding areas. This pocket size guide is easy to pack, and contains great maps and handy hints and tips (like what menu items are, which travel passes to buy etc). If you are going to Tokyo, this book is worth the investment.

“The Stand” by Stephen King


Rating:  ****1/2

Genre: Fiction: Supernatural Thriller/Horror

Read: January 2020  

When a man-made virus is accidentally released to the general public, over 90% of the world’s population dies. The remaining members of the human race are subject to a bizarre shared dreams involving either a kind elderly African-American woman, or a strange and menacing dark man. The survivors follow their instincts and side with the charismatic but evil Randall Flagg in Las Vegas, or the humanist Mother Abigail in Boulder. Eventually to good citizens need to take a stand against the forces of evil.

It’s been years since I first read this book. The story is still as gripping and involving as it always was. In retrospect it isn’t as well written as some of his later books, but well worth the time it takes to read. (And at over 2000 pages it takes time).

“She Lover of Death” by Boris Akunin

Rating:  ****

Genre: Fiction: Mystery

Read: January 2020  

This was a bit of a random selection on my part, having never read any others author’s other works, and therefor none of the others in the Fandorin mysteries series. I am pleased to say that I rather enjoyed the twisted tale of the “Lovers of Death” poetry reading and suicide society, and the lives of the various players involved. Akunin has a rather odd style writing, but this may be due to the translation of the original work. Well worth a look, especially for those with an interested in Russian society.

“Japan – Lonely Planet” by Rebecca Milner, et al

Rating:  ****

Genre: Non-Fiction: Travel

Read: January 2020  

Handy and comprehensive guide to travelling around Japan. Excellent information on transport options, tourist hot spots and seasonal information. Comes with a pull out map and Narita airport card . My only criticisms – the print is very small and the book if very chunky (not the best option for the luggage. Great pre-holiday reading.

“Quentin Tarantino: The Iconic Filmmaker and his works” by Ian Nathan

Rating:  ****

Genre: Non-Fiction: Media 

Read: January 2020  

Nathan has put together a comprehensive review of Tarantino’s life so far, career and artistic endeavours. This wonderfully presented coffee table book is full of brilliant images, interesting facts and many (perhaps a little excessive) observations about the writing and filming processes of pieces such as Reservoir Dogs, True, Jackie Brown, Pulp Fiction, Inglorious Bastards et al. Worth a look for both fans of Tarantino and the Hollywood movie scene in general.

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Previous Years Book Reviews: Archives

2019: 2019 Book Reviews 

2018: BOOKS REVIEWED IN 2018

2017: 2017 Book Reviews by Sarah Jackson

2016: 2016-book-reviews

2015: 2015 Book reviews download